The West

Three Estonian martial arts experts linked to an international Buddhist conference held in Perth this year have been accused of running an extortion scam where migrants' pay was docked to repay the costs of moving to Australia.

Sources have told The Weekend West the allegations mirror so-called debt bondage cases where people are forced to work for almost no pay until the debt is repaid.

The accused men - Henri Lebedev, Marko Stolts and Allar Ahtmann - allegedly withheld two complainants' passports and gave them a bare minimum of their wage to cover basic living costs until they repaid debts of up to $25,000.

Major fraud squad detectives arrested Mr Lebedev, 24, shortly after midnight on September 6 as he was about to board a plane at Perth Airport. Mr Stolts, 22, and Mr Ahtmann, 23, were arrested later that day, and all three were charged with one count of extortion over offences regarding an Estonian man.

Detectives charged the trio with extortion over offences involving a second Estonian man yesterday.

The alleged victims came into contact with the accused men through a recruitment website, which cannot be named for legal reasons. Police allege the complainants were told to apply for 417 visas which enable tourists to work on holiday in Australia, while the company arranged airfares, accommodation and employment.

Both men were employed as welders at a Carlisle factory that allegedly paid the company a fee to find workers overseas. Police allege the complainants were told the Carlisle company would help them secure 457 visas if their performance was acceptable.

Both complainants lived in backpackers' hostels and were allegedly told they would be given about $100 a week from their pay to cover the basic costs of living. Police allege they were threatened with violence if they did not repay the debt.

The accused men all come from Parnu in Estonia. It is alleged there were implied threats of violence to the complainants' families if they did not comply with the demands.

All three have competed in martial arts tournaments.

Business documents show Mr Lebedev is a director of the recruitment company, which operated out of a home in Coode Street, South Perth.

Real estate websites suggest that property recently sold for more than $1 million and was rented at almost $700 a week.

It was also the same address where _The West Australian _interviewed Buddhist monk Vello Vaartnou earlier this year about the Buddhism and Australia conference at Murdoch University.

In his opening speech, Mr Vaartnou thanked Mr Lebedev, Mr Stolts and Mr Ahtmann for their work organising the conference.

Police urged anyone with information on similar situations, particularly people who felt they had been exploited in such a manner, to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

The West Australian

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